Racism Among Hispanics: The George Zimmerman Misconception

Latinos Can’t be Racist?

As I watched the news this morning about yet another story trying to profile George Zimmerman, the alleged shooter in the Treyvon Martin case, the reporter asked a former neighbor if Zimmerman was a racist. The white neighbor replied that she didn’t think so and quickly added that he was a minority himself.

What has perplexed me the most about the Martin case is the wild misconception that just because this man is Hispanic or a minority automatically exempts him from being a racist.

Racism in the Hispanic community and in Latin America in general is deep seeded and perhaps even more dangerous than racism coming from a white population. Why? Because it’s generally acceptable to have stereotypical views about blacks, or even other Hispanics from different countries than ours. It’s usually not condemned outright. The general population seems to forget that Latin America itself was built on the backs of slaves brought over by the Spanish or the Portuguese.  Historically, we have had the same issues with racism as in the United States.

It seems that we are uptight when racism is directed towards us as a group, and yet, individual groups of Hispanics don’t think twice about making racist jokes, especially in tight knit communities.  We have made strides but the truth is racism is just as engrained in our culture as it is in any other.  Many of us have made strides and just like any other society, we have moved forward and acknowledge racism in our culture, but it still exists.

My first post here discussed how my grandfather was a racist. He was Cuban and blacks to him were personas non-grata. We even encountered a failed “smash and grab” in Miami by a group of black kids 20 years ago and in that instance my grandmother only kept screaming in the car “kill the n*” . When we had lunch at a restaurant the next day, he told the story to the young waiter who said that he was a hero and that he should’ve killed the “m…f…n…”. This same kind of attitude may be the same one that Zimmerman had when he pulled that trigger.

I don’t know what ethnicity George Zimmerman is.  Reality is, it doesn’t really matter. This man should NOT be excused for his behavior just because he was Hispanic or any other minority. Racism is racism, it doesn’t matter the package it comes in.




  1. Vic Flores says

    give me a break!  George Zimmerman is clearly racist and needs to face justice,  but don't compare the entire Hispanic community to your racist grandparents.

    • says

       @Vic Flores Vic, I don't think she intends to call Hispanic communities racist, but more to insist that Hispanic communities aren't void of racism.  It's as powerful a system in Latin America as it is here…although different.  An example of los indios in Mexico comes to mind.  <3

    • MariTereMolinet says

       @Vic Flores I'm not saying that all Hispanics are racists. My grandfather is just one example of things I heard growing up inside AND outside the family… I purposefully decided to go with an example that wouldn't violate friends' privacy…but I have many more examples. I have been around Hispanics and Latinos of many different origins and countries and it never seizes to amaze me how many people still feel that making jokes about other Hispanic cultures and  blacks within Hispanic culture are normal and OK as well as racist comments and innuendos from acquaintances. Perhaps you've been lucky enough to be in an environment that racism was an exception or even non-existent, but reality is Hispanics are not naturally "non-racists" just because they are Hispanics as many of these profiles about Zimmerman have wanted to imply.

  2. says

    Mari, I think you make some valuable points here.  In the some Latino families, there is definitely this normalizing of prejudice.  I can't tell how many Latinos I know have been attacked by their families when they married inter-racially to their black spouse.  That's not to say that all Latinos feel this way at all, but more to say that there are some Latinos who are as hateful and racist as some whites.  My in-laws were one example.  It's just ridiculous that some in the media would try to say that Zimmerman couldn't be racist or profiling Trayvon as if all Latinos are free from prejudicial thinking.  I think the whole debate is more about people trying to dismiss the Martin family's claims than anything else and that's sad.  :(

  3. luckyfatima says

    A few thoughts:
    You are right that in white mainstream racial discourse there is the idea that people of color can't be racist. So George Zimmerman's dad busts out with: he's hispanic! and he's not racist! as if his being Latino could possibly absolve him of racism.
    Clearly there was a racial subtext to his actions and to the non-action of the police…and even if he is not white, the institutional and social forces behind Zimmerman's suspicion of black men and the police's sympathizing with a non-black murdering a "suspicious" black man in so-called self-defence are white forces.
    To me George Zimmerman looks brown. He looks like he would be read as a person of color out and about on the street. I don't know his background…is he multiracial Latino-white? I have no clue. But some people are insisting that Zimmerman is white anyway or a white Latino, he doesn't look white…white people do not let men who look like Zimmerman be white in the US. However, again, the crime he committed is definitely connected to white supremacy and institutional racism.
    Yes, there is a lot of anti-black sentiment in Latino communities, from colorism and classism towards black Latinos, to Latinos playing their role in the US white supremacist color caste system that says in order to advance you have to get as close to white as possible and step on African American people in order to do so. That's nothing new and Latinos are not the only community of color to hold open prejudices towards African American people. West Indian blacks and African immigrants are also known to have prejudices towards African-Americans. It's all part of a system of trying to make it under white supremacy.
    Here is a point of contention I have with what you have written: you say that Latino racism is more dangerous than racism coming from a white population. In Latin America it is dangerous…racism in each country and cultural context is different, and in Latin America, racism and colorism coming from white and light Latinos is oppressive for Indigenous people and Afro-Latinos. However, in the US, Latino racism is not more sinister than white racism. Not at all. This is because of the over arching structure of white supremacy and white privilege: Some Latinos can hold these prejudices but they do not have communal power and privilege to collectively use these prejudices to oppress black people…only white people can do that (and we Do do that). And again, in the US context, Latino prejudices towards blacks have to do with moving on up and getting closer to whiteness. So white racism is still ultimately more dangerous.
    I know in mainstream white society, openly racist language is heavily frowned upon. In my experiences with some communities of color, there has been no social movement towards political correctness so people can be blunt with their prejudices and not feel inappropriate using racial slurs. Perhaps that is true in some Latino communities, so superficially these people seem "more prejudiced" than whites. But once again, white people may have for the most part cleaned up our public language, but we have not given up our privileges and every measurable social indicator says we are still perpetuating a racist society (housing/health/education/justice system, etc all favor whites) so just because we don't throw around prejudice so openly doesn't mean anything, we are just as if not more prejudiced as any community of color because our racism bears power to bestow favor on whiteness. White racism is still more dangerous.

    • says

       @luckyfatima Thank you for sharing your insights.  Definitely agree that white racism is different and ultimately more dangerous here in the U.S. because of it's institutionalization.  Love both you awesome ladies for sharing your thoughts here.  <3

    • MariTereMolinet says

       @luckyfatima Thank you so much for your comments and thorough analysis of the post! you make great points! I should've been more clear in using the term dangerous. While you are right that white racism is more dangerous across the board, in cases like this one, it could be more dangerous because it could create impunity for George Zimmerman if ultimately the police, a future jury, etc simply make the connection he is Hispanic ergo he is not racist. It is a dangerous  line of thinking in that it doesn't hold him accountable (or people who commit offenses like this one)  for his actions simply because of a stereotype.

  4. Kate says

    George Zimmerman discovered to be part Hispanic.   So what?  My reactions are based on many actions in the Hispanic (Latino, Latin American, etc.) community and direct observations in the realm of identity politics.  I am an “African American” woman, who visually has a lot in common with the mestizaje or “mixed race” members of the various Hispanic communities. 
    To make the point finer: When I lived in the SF/Bay Area in the 1970s, there were fewer Latinos than today in the general population.  Latinos would greet me with "¿Cómo está?"  — a more formal and yet distancing greeting.  I was still perceived as Other or a good Afro sister, but friendly.  (A point: Latino is aggregate. A Mexicano, is not a Cubano, is not a Puertorriqueño, and is not a Salvadoreña.
    Years later, the number of Latinos with various colors and hues overlapped with those of African Americans.  The greetings changed to “hola,” and a wave, an indication of group inclusion until it was learned that I was not a Latina, Spanish speaking or no. Eventually, the number of Latinos soared. The greetings were sometimes interspersed with “Hola, hermana” or “Hi, sister.”  We, lighter-skinned African Americans and Latinas, had begun, except for language, to “look alike”. Rarely, did I observe or hear about the same greeting used with darker African Americans.   In most Latin-American countries, the darker people are called Negros and Zambos and are discriminated against and avoided.
    In both the U.S. and most of Latin America what sets people apart is the proverbial color line.  Not the color line that DuBois referred to when comparing Blacks (or Negroes) versus White, but the intragroup “light versus dark” color line.  The terms, “mulatto” (a Spanish term) dredges up the comparisons drawn between the privileges of “field Negroes” (dark and few) and “house Negroes” (mulatto or light and greater).  Those differences are the same as found in the Latino communities with caste terms, such as, morenos (browns), or zambos (Indian and Black) versus blancos (White or European). 
    Today, lighter-skinned Latinos often identify racially as “White” and ethnically “of color”.  In short, it’s an identity two-way street.  When benefits are distributed (especially those to assuage injustice and discrimination toward African Americans) or they are in legal trouble many Latinos want to be considered “minorities”.  But for the privileges, these same Latinos check “White” on the forms for racial identity, much like the Italians, Sicilians and Irish learned to do in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Comedian Richard Pryor used to do a skit whereby he said: The first word immigrants learn when they get “off the boat,” is N—-r.
    Supposedly, George Zimmerman was of Peruvian (mother) and White (father) descent.  Many would say, “Peruvian? WTH is Peru?”   Yet, Peru, and its Slave Trade should not be left out.  Enslaved Africans brought directly to Peru were designated bozales ("unskilled, untrained).  Peru’s pigmentocracy hierarchy was: Spaniards at the top, mestizos in the middle, and Africans and the indigenous populations at the bottom.  As New York writer and activist Michaela Angela Davis says, “George Zimmerman's Hispanic roots don't give him cover.” 
    It is intriguing that in the midst of trouble and a possible arrest for murder, George Zimmerman’s father would play the card, “we’re just another minority group called Hispanic.”  “Some of our best friends are…”    Obviously, George Zimmerman had an overactive and live, “wanna-be-a-White-Boy-so-bad-complex” which led to him to carry a gun, be a “badass”  and look to shoot one of “those people” (why else carry a gun and follow Black people).  
    Hispanics’ identity choices and the downstream consequences should and must be explored before Hispanics choose the route that so many light-skinned marginalized immigrants have taken before their entry into the American culture.  The title of books tells the history: “How the Irish Became White” [Ignatiev] (and “How Jews became White Folks” [Brodkin] and “How the Asians Became White” [Volokh].
    While it will take some time to drill down into the forensics of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I can say with all confidence, “Playing the Hispanic card doesn’t mitigate murder.”  " "El asesinato es un asesinato.”  ¿Entiende usted que?
    Kathleen Rand Reed
    Applied Anthropology
    The Rand Reed Group
    Washington, DC and Portland, OR

  5. Musica1 says

    Should he be excused if he was being beaten and it was self defense? People seem to want to believe Trayvon's innocence because he was 17. But I know someone who was beaten by a 16 year old several years ago, and she has ongoing illness from the beating. We are finding Zimmerman guilty and insisting on his being punished without establishing for sure that he shot Martin in anger and not in self defense.